Flying on Biodiesel

It was fairly well documented, back in 1998, that you could fly turboprop and propellor engine planes using biodiesel fuel. But in terms of feasability, flying commercial jet aircraft on biodiesel has always been a more difficult accomplishment.

In September of last year, Boeing announced that at some point in 2008, they would be test flying a 747 using biodiesel. The plane uses Rolls-Royce engines, which can fly on a blend of jet fuel and biodiesel.

3rd Runway at HeathrowEarlier this month Airbus announced their tests of another alternative fuel, using GTL (gas to liquid) fuel to fly the superjumbo whale known as the A380. Their GTL fuel is the result of a cooperation with Qatar petroleum. According to the company this alternative is a viable short term solution for fuel that produces lower emissions and can eventually transition to synthetic fuels made from plant material.

Then last week Richard Branson’s Virgin Atlantic carried out the first biofuel powered commercial airline flight, where only 1 of the 747’s 4 engines was powered by a mixture of Brazilian Babassu nuts and coconuts. However, experts from both Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace have labelled the flight as a publicity stunt and greenwashing.

Both environmental groups point to the problems of continued airport expansion and high demand for biofuel, which are already having detrimental effects on the planet and its people. Their wish is that Airbus, Boeing, and other powerful corporations investing time and energy into biofuels for air travel would shift their focus to these issues instead.

On a related and final note for today, the UN World Food Program has announced that with the significant rise in food prices this year, with their current budget, they will not be capable of stemming the tide of world hunger this year.

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